‘Make It Work For You’: Why Accepting Conservative Anglicans Might Be Good for Progressive Catholics

Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Cantebury
Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Cantebury
Last week, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of inviting Anglicans who don’t like gays or women priests to join the Catholic Church.

The Vatican has offered to set up a special “Anglican rite” that allows Anglican priests to continue their priestly duties under the auspices of Catholicism. (Read Laurie Goodstein’s NYT article here.)

Actually, this move isn’t totally unprecedented. The Vatican did the same thing in 1992 when the Church of England began officially ordaining women. Attention was given then to the male Anglican priests who “fled” to the male bastion of the Catholic hierarchy. While the Vatican made nice comments about how happy it was to welcome these new brothers, it made little comment about the many many exceptional Catholic women who had “fled” to the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and would go to the Church of England in order to follow their call to ordination.

This latest show of welcoming conservative Anglicans may prove to be a boon however for progressive Catholics. Since, most of the Anglican priests joining the Catholic church are married with families, this move may push the Catholic church another step forward in accepting married priests. If the Vatican can find room for married Anglican priests, then surely it can find room for the 110,000 Catholic priests around the world who left active ministry in order to marry!

See the article from FutureChurch below:

The organization FutureChurch has welcomed the decision of the Vatican to allow married Anglican clergy who become Catholic to continue to serve as priests, but they are calling for the option of a married priesthood in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church too.

FutureChurch director, Sr. Christine Schenk, said: “Parishes in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom are closing, while thousands of Catholics in the developing world have virtually no access to Mass and the sacraments because of too few celibate priests.”

According to a 2007 article in the New York Times, 80% of all Sunday celebrations in Brazil are led by lay leaders because there are no priests, she said.

“I think this may be painful news for married Catholic priests who are not permitted to serve the Church”, said FutureChurch board member Bill Wisniewski, himself a married Catholic priest.

“It’s past time for Rome to welcome back the nearly 110,000 priests around the world who left the active ministry to marry.  We must also work to enfranchise the tens of thousands of women ministering in the Church.”

“I’m just wondering how its going to work to have Catholic seminarians who cannot marry, study next to Anglican seminarians who will presumably be able to marry,”  said Mary Lou Hartman, a FutureChurch board member from Princeton, New Jersey.

“I’m guessing more than a few Catholic seminarians may just decide to join the Anglican branch.”

Hartman was referring to a statement by Cardinal Levada issued on 20 October in which he said: ‘The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony.”

Four years ago, FutureChurch lobbied the Vatican’s International Synod on The Eucharist asking for open discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons.

Four of the synod’s twelve working groups wanted to study married priests.

“At the synod there was much talk of allowing ‘viri probati’ (tested men) to perform priestly functions,” said Schenk.  “So perhaps that conversation helped prepare the way for yesterday¹s announcement that Rome will make special adaptations for married Anglican priests and bishops to join the Church.”

Last June, FutureChurch launched a new initiative: Optional Celibacy: So All Can Be At the Table. The international electronic and paper postcard campaign asks Cardinal Hummes at the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome begin “discussion at the highest levels of the Church about the need to return to our earliest tradition of permitting both a married and celibate clergy.”

To date over 2000 postcards have been sent from the US and scores of organizing packets have been downloaded from the FutureChurch website.  An international campaign will begin in November with electronic postcards in German, French and Spanish.

Because of the priest shortage, U.S. dioceses will be forced to reconfigure parishes for the foreseeable future. According to the Center for Applied  Research in the Apostolate, 75% of the 18,000 active diocesan priests in the US are over 55 years old, but the US is only ordaining about 350 new diocesan priests each year. In 20 years, presuming ordinations remain constant, the US could have as few as 11,500 active diocesan priests for its 19,000 parishes. At the same time, numbers of deacons and paid lay ministers  have increased significantly to 14,000 and 30,000 respectively. Presently ‘parish life coordinators’ are pastoring an estimated 600 U.S. parishes.

Between 1975 and 2005 the world’s Catholics increased by fifty-seven percent from 709.6 million to 1.115 billion, but the number of priests increased only four-tenths of one percent (0.4%). (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)

In June, the president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, who is a former bishop, said the church should rethink its stance on celibacy. Lugo created a sensation when he admitted to fathering a child after he resigned as a bishop but before being laicized. His remarks prompted archbishop Eustaquio Cuquejo Verga of Asuncion to say the Catholic Church has no reason to reconsider  celibacy for Latin-rite priests. This, despite a February 2008 petition from some 18,000 South American priests asking to change celibacy rules.

For more information about FutureChurch’s international Optional Celibacy campaign , Official Catholic Directory statistics for every US diocese, and results of  their survey of priests in 57 US dioceses see: www.futurechurch.org

2 thoughts on “‘Make It Work For You’: Why Accepting Conservative Anglicans Might Be Good for Progressive Catholics”

  1. Nathan Sooy sent in a great question: Aren’t there already some of the Eastern Catholics (in communion with the Pope) who can marry? And wasn’t there a deal at some point that the Eastern Catholics would have to be celibate in the Americas?

    ANSWER (as best as I know it): Nathan– Great question. Yep. For the last 500 years the Western/Latin Rite of the Catholic Church has prohibited priests from marrying. However, in 1980 the Pope allowed some married Lutheran and some Anglican pastors to entered the Catholic Church and become priests. In the Eastern Rite of the Catholic church (not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox), has always allowed for the possibility of married men being ordained to the priesthood. However, the Pope decided that only unmarried celibate men could be be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Church in the U.S. and Canada. (Figuring out why would take more research.)

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